BY MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY -- The name on the jersey says Traverse City Wolves, but there is definitely an influence from another northern Michigan town.
Three offensive starters -- quarterback Will Moran, fullback D.J. Szymoniak and right guard Damon Marsh -- all hail from Onaway.
"It's just the small town atmosphere," Szymoniak said. "We have guys here representing Onaway football. We're coming down here and cracking heads just like we did back in the day."
Moran, a 1999 grad, and Szymoniak, a 1998 alum, played together in high school.
"It has helped me quite a bit being the QB here," Moran said. "I know how (D.J.) runs. He runs hard, he's fast, he's smart. It really has helped us spending four years in high school working together and bringing it together 10 years later."
And while Moran and Szymoniak didn't play in high school with the 35-year-old Marsh, they certainly are familiar with him.
"Just being from the Onaway area, I've known these guys since they were little," Marsh said. "D.J. was the waterboy on my football team. And he's one of the best athletes to come out of Onaway, so it's my pleasure to be able to block for Will and for D.J.
"To be able to go back to Onaway and tell some of the folks that we were putting some points on the board, it's as much of a rush to go back and see the smiles on their faces as it is to play the game."
With three members on the team, Onaway -- a town of about 1,000 -- had a strong showing at Saturday's home debut for the Wolves.
"We put quite a few fans in the stands from Onaway," Moran said. "It was nice to see they would make the commute to come and support us."
Marsh said he had about 55 family and friends make the trek to Traverse City Central to watch the Wolves beat Chicago 30-6. Moran estimated there could have been 100 fans from Onaway at the game. They expect another big crowd this Saturday when the Wolves host Tri-City at 7 p.m.
"Onaway's represented very well," Marsh said. "They love football. It's probably their No. 1 sport, watching their football team."
Last week, the Onaway onlookers got to see their hometown boys in a big way. Szymoniak got the Wolves on the scoreboard with a 2-yard scamper in the first quarter and found the end-zone two more times in the second half.
"It was a good feeling," Szymoniak said. "It helped a lot having the defense keep giving us the ball back. It seems like we just sat down and the defense got the ball and got us out there again. And, just the help of the line getting it done and knocking people out of my way to get some yards."
Marsh was impressed with both of his fellow Onaway natives.
"These guys showed some guts," he said. "Will took a ton of hits, and he got right back up. And D.J. hits his holes and runs hard. We're talking about a guy with college and Arena experience. I always wondered what it would be like to block for him, and now I get that chance. He ran a couple of touchdowns through my hole."
Marsh, like many of his fellow Traverse City Wolves teammates, relished the opportunity to get back on the football field.
"Everybody when they get on the bus for the last game, the coach tells you 'this is probably the last time most of you will put pads on,'" Marsh said. "I wanted to believe that wasn't going to be true, but for 17 years, it pretty much was. But then I hear this thing on the radio, and I said, 'Now's my time.' Why not? I had kept myself in pretty good shape.
"It's a dream come true. I feel like I'm 18 years old again. My body sometimes doesn't tell me that, but up here in my head, I'm 18."
And now, he's hoping to inspire some of the other players from his hometown area.
"There's a couple more I could see in the future coming down and playing here," Marsh said. "It takes a couple of people to set it up for them to see that 'Damon did it, D.J. did it, Will did it, I can do it too.' I think you're going to see some more Onaway people, and I'll tell you what, there are some pretty tough kids that come out of that area."
Onaway isn't the only town from the region contributing to the Wolves' roster this season.
"I think it's fantastic, because in my opinion what they've done here is take an All-Star team from northern Michigan," Moran said. "They've taken a couple of great guys from Onaway, a couple from Cheboygan, a lot of guys from Traverse City. It's kind of the surrounding schools around and we had the best pick of them all."